For anyone purchasing electrical equipment, the time-honoured way to do business has been via the electrical wholesaler and visits to the trade counter have become a part of a their everyday life. But the evolution of the electrical industry and the introduction of technology such as iPads and Smart phones mean that contractors have an expectation about the way they are able to do business
For many this means having access to an online trading portal which gives them the flexibility to browse and buy at their convenience rather than being limited to the opening hours of the trade counter. But whilst convenience is nice to have, price remains a strong selling point and few contractors are willing to accept a compromise which sees them paying more for the same product online than they would at the trade counter.
The need to overcome this issue has been the subject of much debate and strong support for both online trading and the traditional trade counter has demonstrated that there exists a place for both channels – and this is something which City Electrical Factors (CEF) has taken advantage of with the launch of its B2B Website.
Jeremy Saunders, general manager North London & South West Region for CEF says: “In launching the website it was clear from the start that many contractors would still do business in the traditional way at the trade counter. But this was never about removing a business channel; it was about adapting to new ways of trading and building on what the company already offered.
“The B2B website was therefore really about making life easier for our customers and what this means for the contractor is that whether they buy their products from the trade counter or online they have access to the same pricing structure as their account is linked to their local branch.
“The issue of convenience was also something which contractors have been crying out for because things like ‘Click and Collect’ are something which we have come to expect when we make personal purchases online. With over 400 trade counters across the UK and Ireland it therefore made sense to introduce this service allowing our customers to order online and collect their purchases at a time that was convenient for them. In fact since its launch we have dispatched over 30,000 orders and 51% of them have been sent to a branch for a customer to collect.”
Far from signaling the end of the trade counter, the B2B website has provided a boost to the traditional sales channel as it allows customers to browse for the items they require before making a purchase. If the order is then placed online they can arrange for collection or delivery at a time which suits them.
This is particularly beneficial for manufacturers like Klein Tools whose products are available exclusively through CEF branches. The range of hand tools, test equipment and professional tool bags they offer is extensive and each contractor will have different requirements, but the ability to browse online means that they can spend as much time as they like researching the features and benefits of each product before making a purchase.
Malcolm Duncan, of Klein Tools, said: “A modern day professional expects to communicate with both wholesaler and manufacturer via all channels available. Yes they will continue to support the traditional bricks and mortar trade counter, but they must also have access to a wider range of information and be able to trade with that location 24/7 365 days a year. Those who embrace the digital platform and integrate it into their business offer are therefore the ones who will lead this industry into the next century.
“The digital channel also opens up the possibilities for embracing new customers such as facilities managers and consultants who wouldn’t normally visit the trade counter because it provides a simple and easy method for them to fulfil their purchasing requirements.”
Ahead of the times
The electrical wholesaling industry is constantly being accused of being behind the times - certainly as far as online trading is concerned but while some may believe this is as a result of apathy nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact it is more about getting it right because far too often websites provide little product information and no images to accompany it - which is of no real use to anyone. In contrast CEF has over 27,000 enhanced listings which provides customers with all of the information they require to both specify and purchase.
Saunders concluded: “Technology has also come a long way and this has helped us to improve our service offering using the latest innovations available. So now when I hear people say that the electrical industry is behind the times I would argue the point because clearly it is right up there with the big high street retailers in terms of the services which it offers.”